Armenian Street begins at the junction of Coleman Street and Stamford Road and ends at the point where Canning Rise and Coleman Street meet. The street has one bylane, Loke Yew Street, which connects Armenian Street to Hill Street. Named after the Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, it was originally called Armenian Church Street. The street also has other significant landmarks such as the Peranakan Museum, the former MPH Building, The Substation, Bible House and the United Chinese Library.1
Built in 1835, the Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator is the oldest church in Singapore. The street was already in existence when the church was built but was then unnamed. By the 1840s, the street that ran along a third of the church had become known as Armenian Church Street. It is likely that the name was shortened to Armenian Street some time later. This led to the mistaken belief that many Armenians resided or had businesses along this street. However, only one Armenian residence stood here: Aristarkies Sarkies’s Zetland House occupied one-sixth of the eastern side of the street, though he stayed no more than two years at this mansion. The street also only had one known Armenian business: a photography studio owned by George Michael in the early 1900s, located at the junction of Armenian Street and Stamford Road.2
Besides Armenian Street, there were several other byways associated with the Armenians nearby. One of them was Armenian Lane, which was expunged due to development work, and a short unnamed portion that ran off Hill Street opposite the church and was built over in the 1990s.3
Although short, Armenian Street has several significant buildings situated along it. In 1906, the Hokkien Huay Kuan established Tao Nan School there.4 The school moved to Marine Parade in 1982, and in 1997 the building reopened as the Asian Civilisations Museum. Originally displaying exhibits from China, Southeast Asia, India and West Asia, the museum now focuses on the presenting the culture of the Peranakan community and was accordingly renamed Peranakan Museum. As a national monument, the intricate details of the building remain including the two black eagles at its entrance.5
The former MPH Building, built in 1908, is situated at the junction of Stamford Road and Armenian Street. A big portion of the building extends into Armenian Street, though its main entrance faces Stamford Road. Previously known as the Methodist Publishing House, the company was renamed Malaya Publishing House after its operations were commercialised. Built in the Edwardian commercial street architectural style, it was well known for its retail bookstore, MPH. The building was sold to Vanguard Interiors in the 2000s and is currently leased by the Singapore Management University as part of its campus.6
An old electrical or power station near the shophouses was renovated and converted into an arts centre known as The Substation in February 1990.7 The arts centre features a performing stage and a small gallery. Attached to it was a cafe and an open courtyard used often for performances and exhibitions.8 These two areas have been rented out to the bar and bistro, Timbre, since 2005.9
The United Chinese Library was built between 1908 and 1911 below Fort Canning. It was inaugurated on 8 August 1910 by Sun Yat Sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader. In 1911, the library was moved to Armenian Street. It was set up as one of the 50 reading rooms by the Chinese Republicans to promote their cause overseas. In 1987, the library relocated to Cantonment Road. However, its former premises on Armenian Street remains to this date, and the plaque inscribed with Sun Yat Sen’s words can still be found at its entrance.10
The string of shophouses lining the street has been there since the 1930s. They used to house the operations of the Singapore Museum and one of its museum shop outlets. Opposite this string of shophouses is Wilmer Place, which rents out office space to private enterprises situated within its premises. Beside this was the Mayfair City Hotel. Some shophouses located at the junction of Armenian Street and Loke Yew Street have been restored and conserved.11
In 1956, to build a new embassy, the United States of America purchased the plot of land next to the Armenian Church bounded by Armenian Street, Loke Yew Street and Hill Street.12 On 26 June 1961, the Embassy of the United States of America was officially moved from Cecil Street to this new building and remained there till it moved to Napier Road in November 1996.13
At the other end of Armenian Street on the junction with Coleman Street, the British and Foreign Bible Society opened its headquarters building, the two-storey Bible House, in February 1909.14 The society – now officially called The Bible Society of Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei – replaced the 1909 building with a new six-storey building in 1974.15
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 362–63 (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Toponymics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (Singapore: Times Media Private Ltd., 2003), 41 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore’s 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 12–13. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
2. Nadia H. Wright, Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (Middle Park: Amassia Publishing, 2003), 81. (Call no. RSING 305.891992 WRI)
3. Wright, Respected Citizens, 81.
4. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & Now. (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 58. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
5. “Tao Nan School Building,” Peranakan Museum, accessed 30 May 2016; “About Us,” Asian Civilisations Museum, accessed 30 May 2016.
6. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 362–63; Sandra Davie, “Former MPH Building Now Learning Lab for SMU Students,” Straits Times, 21 December 2014. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
7. Ray Tyers and Siow JIn Hua, Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 58. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
8. G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore’s 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 12–13. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
9. Gregory Leow, “On a Different Note,” New Paper, 8 July 2005, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Devi, et al., Singapore’s 100 Historic Places, 12–13.
11. “36 and 38 Armenian Street,” Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, accessed 24 March 2016.
12. Rashiwala, K. “US Embassy's Hill St Property May Fetch $100M,” The Straits Times, 20 November 1996, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Embassy Building Reflects Growing Importance of the Republic,” The Straits Times, 17 December 1967, 11; Rashiwala, “US Embassy's Hill St Property May Fetch $100M,” (From NewspaperSG); Ministry of Culture, Singapore Street Directory and Sectional Maps 9th ed. (Singapore: Ministry of Culture, 1969), map 6, A4. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
14. “New Bible House: Opening of the British and Foreign Society Rooms,” The Straits Times, 23 February 1909, 7. (From NewspaperSG); The Bible Society of Singapore, Sending Out God's Light and Truth: A Pictorial History of the Bible Mission in Singapore (Singapore: The Bible Society of Singapore, 2017), 44. (Call no. RSING 267.13095957 SEN)
15. The Bible Society of Singapore, Sending Out God's Light and Truth: A Pictorial History of the Bible Mission in Singapore, 44.
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Streets and Places